The Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday night voted to extend permission for restaurants to continue using their temporary outdoor dining decks through Labor Day.
As approved unanimously, the council agreed that restaurants would stop serving on those temporary outdoor patios at the end of the day on Monday, September 6, and would have them dismantled by Friday, September 10.
However, one small group of temporary dining decks - those located on Manhattan Beach Blvd. west of Ocean Drive and leading down to the Manhattan Beach Pier - would only be extended through July 5. City officials said that if large summer events such as major volleyball tournaments take place this year, the event coordinators and fire and police departments need that area for staging and security.
Council members agreed to review those westernmost dining decks when there is more certainty about whether those events will be held and what kinds of staffing and security will be required. Those dining decks affected belong to the Strand House, Brewco, Rock'N Fish, and Shellback Tavern.
Leading up to the debate, council members had been swamped with comments from both supporters and detractors of the dining decks. However, council members emphasized that the dining decks were not meant to be permanent and represented an effort to support businesses through what is hoped to be the tail end of the pandemic restrictions.
"This is about getting our restaurants and retailers through the summer," said Manhattan Beach Mayor Suzanne Hadley. "They're not even close to back to normal."
The council deferred the discussion on whether to continue to waive the parking and usage fees for those spaces taken up by the dining decks.
To date, there have been 26 outdoor dining permits issued in Manhattan Beach. Those decks use 78 parking spaces across town, as well as some right of way areas.
The city has not been charging restaurants for use of those spaces. The meter costs for one parking space is about $790/month, and the use of the sidewalk right-of-way spaces is priced at $3 per square foot per month. Along with potential revenue lost from parking tickets, the outdoor dining effort has cost the city about $734,000. However, that amount has generally been made up by a similar amount of revenue brought in by increasing parking meter rates across town to $2 per hour.
Restaurants Still Hit By Pandemic Restrictions
Restaurateurs in Manhattan Beach said that the dining decks have provided a lifeline to their businesses, which are still not operating at full capacity.
Mike Simms, founder and CEO of the Simms Group, which owns several downtown restaurants, reminded the council that restaurants can still only operate at 50 percent capacity inside, and the number might be less if there isn't enough room to space people properly.
"We’re far from being back to normal," said Simms. "Times are still tough for us. These outdoor dining decks are critical to our success."
Jill Lamkin, the executive director of the Downtown Manhattan Beach Business and Professionals Association, added that the the outdoor dining has been helpful to both restaurants and retailers.
"Outdoor dining benefited downtown by providing an essential lifeline to restaurants, and many of our businesses believe that outdoor dining positively impacted foot traffic leading to sales revenues during the pandemic," Lamkin told the council. "A strong combination of bustling retail, restaurant and services are vital to the success of downtown Manhattan Beach."
However, resident Carol Perrin told the council that many downtown residents were initially on board with the outdoor dining decks, but opposed extending them because of the additional crowding and traffic nuisances that they have created.
"Everybody likes outdoor dining - but not like this," said Perrin. "Restaurants set up platforms knowing and agreeing to 90 days. They are the ones asking to change what they agreed to."
If the outdoor dining decks are to continue, added Perrin, their impact should be thoroughly studied before any decisions are made.
However, council members agreed that the dining decks are still necessary - albeit temporary - fixes to help restaurants stay afloat while pandemic rules are still in place.
Councilmember Steve Napolitano described the effect of pandemic restrictions on restaurants as a "pendulum swing."
When the pendulum swung to one extreme, the city needed "throw a lifeline to our businesses to survive" by allowing them to create the outdoor dining decks, he said. "Now it’s swinging back the other way - it's swinging to the point of overcapacity."
Nevertheless, he said, "I’m good with going forward on continued temporary basis, as the pendulum swings back to profit side of things."
The city should continue to reevaluate the decks throughout the summer and potentially reduce occupancy on the decks if overcrowding becomes an issue, he said. "Safety is paramount."